Spotlight: Movie review.


“I’m just a poor boy from a poor family” says one of the victims of systematically covered up child abuse by paedophile Priests in Boston “and when a priest pays attention to you, it’s a big deal. How do you say ‘no’ to God?”.

The victim might well have added, as I did, subconsciously, the paraphrased words of Freddie Mercury “spare me my life from this monstrosity.”

Because let’s make no mistake here.  This was a monstrosity.

The story is, on the surface, a journalistic procedural about the ‘exposing’ (no pun intended) of paedophile priests in Massachusetts (Boston specifically) by The Boston Globe’s ‘Spotlight’ tiny hit squad at the turn of the millennium.  The investigation is set into motion at the instruction of the ailing paper’s then Editor, Marty Baron, played with callous inscrutability by Liev Scriver.  It’s a  masterful performance.

Or at least that’s how the movie’s billed.  In actual fact it becomes a complete deconstruction of the ‘Three Estates’ and commentary on their deep rooted self protection; the clergy, the news industry, the legal sector, the monied are all systematically pulverised in Josh Singer and Tom McCarthy’s acid script.

No one comes out alive.

Including, tragically, many of the thousand and more victims of this institutionalised psychological ‘phenomenon’ that is peculiar to a significant minority (6% apparently) of the Catholic clergy, and it hasn’t just happened in Boston Massachusetts, but the first world over.

That’s why this film is so important, because as we bemoan the effect of islamic fundamentalism of the World order right now the Christian religion has been breeding just as insidious an evil, but from within and of its own, for decades (maybe, no probably, longer).

As the movie opens it quickly becomes apparent that Spotlight is a commercial indulgence in the context of falling newsprint sales and the fledgling ‘internet’ bringing with it, as it did, almost unlimited, free 24 hour news.  The new editor, with a reputation for cutting the workforce elsewhere, initially looks at Spotlight (a team of four) with skepticism.

They grow their stories at leisure and have an unhealthily parochial attitude towards them.  They look set for the chop until Baron learns of a retired priest who’s been exposed and thinks it’s a story for the Spotlight team.  Apart from eager beaver, Mike Rezendez (another magnificent performance by the chameleon-like Mark Ruffalo) they’re initially reluctant because they know the city ‘mafia’ (it’s strongly Catholic and protects its own) will not make the task easy and could, in fact, boycott the title if the accusations are distasteful.

The Spotlight team go for it with vigour.  The meat of the film gradually excavates the layers of deceit, and cover up, executed by the Archbishop, his cronies and the legal profession who carry out extensive, but not particularly elaborate, burial of evidence, misfiling of case reports and the turning of blind eyes; right left and centre.

The pollce are implicated (no, accused) the most senior judiciary (some of them also Catholic) subvert and seal important files.

Frankly, the whole thing sucks.

And then 9/11 strikes, suddenly the world’s eyes turn to Islam, including Spotlights’.

How ironic.

It’s a tragic intervention in many ways because the team is making real progress; extracting victim stories from grown men, mainly but not exclusively, that agree to tell their stories and closing in on the legal, clergy and city movers and shakers that are at the heart of the cover up.

But eventually the case resumes and we reach our inevitable and well publicised finale.

What Tom McCathy has achieved here is turn a movie into a fly on the wall docudrama, shot, as it is, in unglamorous fluorescent light for the most part.  The lead performances by Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Michael Keaton and John Slattery are selfless.  Spotlight is bigger than any of them.  (A special mention must also go to Stanley Tucci for playing the lawyer with a heart in an award worthy turn.)

The script is a whodunit of epic proportions and the content is both worthwhile and necessary; the sum is most certainly greater than the parts.

Praise to the real Spotlight team was ultimately massive (they won the Pulitzer prize for their efforts) but the impact it has had as it has resonated across not just the Boston Globe but its entirety makes this an effort of monumental proportions and the basis of a truly great movie that should win best picture at the 2016 Academy Awards.


The Pope’s sad and sorry visit to Scotland

Pope Benedict. He’ll need to rely on more than touching the cross.

I was stunned when my mother told me the other day that she would not be going to Bellahouston Park to see Pope Benedict strut his stuff.  Her reasoning being that she would not support a pontif who had swept child sex abuse under the carpet.

Now let’s put my astonishment in context here.  My mother is a 74 year old, card carrying, lifelong Catholic who practices her religion with devotion several times a week.

For her to ‘disown’ her spiritual leader is, in my book, brave, principled and deeply admirable.

And I am wholly (if you’ll excuse the pun) with her.

I too am a, rather flakier, card holder and I am rather less supportive in general terms of the Catholic church.  And, for me, the whole destabilisation of the organisation under Pope Benedict’s custodianship has increasingly looked like a religion losing control.

I strongly agree with this brave writer to The Guardian only last week

If the supreme pontiff wanted to restore the moral credibility of his church, he could do even better than that. He could, as Jesus did, take the sins of his brethren on himself. He could quit, whether personally responsible for the global cover-up that has put Roman Catholicism into an unprecedented crisis or not. That there is no precedent for a papal resignation would make it totally remarkable, even saintly. In secular terms, the holy father would, however, be doing no more than any CEO of an international corporation in a comparably disgraceful situation. He would be forced by his chairman to go. God has abdicated that kind of authority and left even a pope with free will.

There is, as it happens, a recent Protestant precedent. When the Lutheran bishop of Hamburg learned of a serious case of child abuse within her jurisdiction, though not directly responsible, she promptly resigned. Anything less, she said, would not suffice. Perhaps a woman’s moral sensibility is stronger. Were that, per impossibile, to happen at the Vatican, a successor would be set free to embark on the new reformation that would need to centre on vital issues of gender and sexuality.

Canon Paul Oestreicher

Brighton, East Sussex
Again, in the Guardian, on Monday, Madeleine Bunting made some interesting observations.

In her article she cited that his clumsiness (to put it mildly) in handling not just child sex abuse, but also female ordination and the church’s relationship with Islam has reignited anti Catholic feeling in the UK.  Quite rightly she points to the impact of the child sex abuse scandals in that it strikes at the core of our religion and totally undermines the authority of the clergy over the laity.  Deference to the clergy is in freefall.  How could it be any other way.  “What ye sew, so shall ye reap.”

And yet, and yet, despite collapsing confidence and church attendance all over Europe business is booming.

Africans and Asians are flocking to the church in their droves.

So what?  Business is bad in Europe?  We can just invest our marketing effort in new markets can’t we?

So what if the old guard lose faith; there plenty more we can get through missionary work.

I don’t want to sound totally cynical, but it’s hard not to.  The entire edifice of the Catholic Church is built on faith, blind faith critics argue, and faith is built on trust.

When a 74 year old blind faith follower votes with her feet the whole pack of cards looks in very great danger of falling down.

And it’s so easy to fix.

Zero tolerance needs to be adopted and the church should be utterly cleansed of these men once and for all.

Then, maybe then, Catholicism will find an Indian summer in Europe.

As for Bellahouston Park.  I hope it’s half empty.